Trump’s UN Executive Order Would Cut off America’s Nose to Spite Its Face

The UN is flawed and frustrating—but also indispensable to the United States.

by Stewart M. Patrick

As first reported in yesterday’s New York Times, President Donald J. Trump’s White House has prepared two executive orders that would slash U.S. funding for the United Nations and place a moratorium on any new multilateral treaties. Both of these draft documents (which this author has seen) are consistent with Trump’s hyper-nationalist, “America First” agenda. As such, they will play well with his populist base. But they reflect a short-sighted conception of U.S. national interests and signal a reckless abdication of U.S. global leadership.

The most problematic of these orders is titled “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations.” It calls for the establishment of an International Funding Advisory Committee, including the secretaries of state and defense, attorney general, Office of Management and Budget director, director of national intelligence, and national security advisor (but interestingly, not new UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who testified at her confirmation hearing: “I do not think we need to pull money for the UN.”). The committee’s mandate would be to determine which UN agencies and other international bodies merit continued funding and which should be cut. Most startlingly, the directive instructs the committee to slash voluntary contributions to UN agencies by 40 percent. It also envisions placing numerous conditions on continued U.S. support for the United Nations’ regular and peacekeeping budget—legally binding obligations that are assessed annually—potentially placing the United States in violation of its treaty obligations under the UN Charter.

The document is couched in the language of fiscal stewardship and patriotic nationalism, promising to “help identify wasteful and counterproductive giving” and avoid supporting a “United Nations [that] often pursues an agenda contrary to American interests.” But the executive order is at once blunt, narrow-minded, and myopic. It grossly exaggerates the financial burden that UN bodies impose upon U.S. taxpayers. It ignores the multiple practical benefits the United States obtains from its support for multilateral bodies. And it is based on false premises about the purpose of international organizations and the nature of multilateral diplomacy. If implemented, the executive order would undermine multilateral mechanisms upon which U.S. citizens depend every day to advance their security, prosperity, well-being, and values.

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